Why We Buy The Weapons We Do

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date


Published In

The Political Economy: Readings In The Politics And Economics Of American Public Policy


Few areas of public policy are more fraught with consequences, both globally and domestically, than U.S. weapons procurement. In this essay, James R. Kurth begins by distinguishing four sorts of explanations for the pattern of that procurement that are offered by conventional literature—strategic, bureaucratic, democratic, and economic explanations—then tests these explanations against the major weapons decisions of the Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon administrations. He develops in particular detail a variant on the industry-specific sort of economic explanation, featuring in his own construction "follow-on" and "bail-out" imperatives for government support of weapons producers. While this revised economic explanation illuminates many of the decisions in the procurement process, however, Kurth find it distinctly limited as a general theory of that process. It does not, for example, easily lit the U. S. decision to launch and continue with a major MIRV (multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles) missile program, where more explicitly strategic and bureaucratic explanations seem more plausible. Kurth concludes that no single available theory captures the complexity of the procurement process, and counsels explanatory eclecticism in understanding the mysteries of weapons development.

Published By

M.E. Sharpe


T. Ferguson and J. Rogers

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